July 28th, 2011
06:32 PM ET
Dr. Tom Hackett is an orthopedic surgeon at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. He also serves as the head team physician to the U.S. Snowboard Team, assistant team physician to the Colorado Rockies and medical adviser to the Major League Baseball Alumni Association.
The word taper refers to a gradual narrowing or thinning of an object and has direct implications to race day preparation. Several scientific studies and years of experience with athletes from all walks of life have shown that a well-thought-out and executed tapering program can improve performance on the big day.
Essentially it means giving your body rest but at the same time maintaining your fitness level. You need to be fully recovered from your training so you can give it 100 percent through the finish of a race and let all that hard work leading up to the big day payoff.
It’s a time to decrease the mileage and intensity of workouts and to remember that no one workout the week before a race will really enhance preparedness all that much. However, plenty of rest leading up to the race can improve your time up to 3-5%. I’ve worked with several champion Hawaiian ironman and Xterra winners who have emphasized that a proper taper is as important as proper training.
Specific distances and timing will depend upon the distance you are racing. If you are gearing up for a full ironman you might start a taper program up to three weeks before the race day whereas if your race is a sprint triathlon then you might start less than a week ahead of time. Essentially, the longer the race time the longer the taper needs to be and a rough guide to adjusting the time and mileage of your taper can be based on percentages.
For example, for a three-week taper you can consider a 75/50/25 program where you are doing 75% of your normal distance the first week followed by 50% the next week and 25% the last week.
If you want to take a full day off, do it two or three days before the race. The final day before the race is like your race day warm-up with nice easy stretching and long strides and strokes. Sleep, eat and get ready to rock it out on race day.
The week before the race is a great time to do some easy rides and short distance runs and swims with a real emphasis on stretching and technique. The dedication and commitment as well as the blood sweat and tears of your punishing daily workout are over. You are about to hit pay dirt. Rest! Sleep! Hydrate! Stretch!
This is also a great time to concentrate on the mental side of your race as well as some of the more technical aspects. Is your bike in tiptop shape? Did you choose just the right pair of socks to wear? Do you have a plan for the transitions? Do you know where to park your car on the way to the starting line? Are your laces in good shape on your running shoes? The last thing you want is for the strap on your swim goggles to break right before you get into the water!
Having these little details sorted out can really help your mental game. The really hard work is finished. Let your body rest and calm your mind. Then when the starting gun fires unleash your athletic fury!
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